Sunday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Commentary on Wisdom 12:13.16-19; Romans 8:26-27; Matthew 13:24-43

Today sees a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel reading from chapter 13 of Matthew on the parables of the Kingdom. Matthew in these parables speaks consistently of the “kingdom of heaven” and it could be, for some people, a misleading phrase because it seems to refer to the after-life, an other-world future existence.

In fact, as has been mentioned in a number of previous commentaries, Jesus and the Gospel are speaking very emphatically about the world in which are living NOW. The Kingdom represents the kind of world that God, through Jesus, wants to see realised among us here on earth. We pray for it daily in the Lord’s Prayer:

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

And it will only come about in so far as we co-operate and work together with Jesus, here and now.

Why, then, does Matthew speak of the “kingdom of heaven”? We need to remember that this gospel is written mainly for a Jewish readership. Out of respect, the Jews did not like to use the name of God directly. “Heaven” then is a euphemism for “God”. And Matthew uses other devices to avoid mentioning God’s name directly e.g. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven” (i.e. by God), or “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (i.e. from God). Mark, on the other hand, writing for a different readership, has no problems speaking about the “kingdom of God”.

Nature of the ‘Kingdom’
“Kingdom” in the Gospel does not refer to a place, either here or hereafter. The Greek word, basileia, better translated as ‘kingship’, or ‘reign’, or ‘rule’, so some translations speak of the ‘Reign of God’. The Kingdom is primarily an environment, it is a set of relationships, it is a situation where God’s values prevail. And what are God’s values? In practice, they are the deepest human values and aspirations as mirrored in the life of Jesus, who is himself the revelation of God to us in accessible human form. These values include truth, love, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity with all other human beings, a sense of trust in other, a deep respect for the dignity of every other human person, a holistic concept of human growth and development. And, of course, all these are seen in the light of God, who is their Ultimate Source. It is to be like him and with him that we live according to these values. They, with and through Jesus, are our link with Him.

People who, individually and collectively, try to live these values belong, with Jesus, to the Kingdom of God. They are united with the rule of God in trying to build a world we would all like to see happen. It is very much something for the here and now. It is basically the vocation of the Church, and therefore the vocation of every parish community and of every member of that community. At the same time, we need to recognise that the Kingdom and the Church are not co-terminous (see the parable below). The Kingdom extends beyond the Church. There certainly are people, who may not explicitly know Christ or express allegiance to Christ, who yet live the ideals and the values of the Kingdom in their lives. Individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi or the Dalai Lama are examples from the recent past. On the other hand, we cannot say we belong to the Kingdom simply because we are baptised Church members, but only in so far as the vision of the Kingdom is an effective factor of our daily living.

Weeds and wheat
In today’s Gospel reading we have three images or parables of the Kingdom at work among us. The first is the parable of the weeds among the wheat. The Kingdom of God clearly calls for people of the highest ideals and great generosity. It also calls for a great measure of tolerance, patience and understanding in seeing the Kingdom become a reality. The conversion of our societies into Kingdom-like communities is a very gradual process. There is always the danger that, when people try to take God or the good life seriously, they become elitist. We Christians, simply as Christians, can feel superior to people of other religions or none. As Catholics we can talk disparagingly of Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals. And even among Catholics, members of charismatic groups, Legionaries, Bible study groups, social action groups can see themselves as ‘superior’ to ‘ordinary’ Catholics who ‘only’ go to Mass on Sundays. And the Sunday mass-goers are a cut above those who only appear at the Christmas midnight Mass.

And, in general, we ‘decently moral people’ are ahead of the ‘thugs’, ‘louts’ and other ‘undesirables’ in our society. ‘Thugs’ and ‘louts’ may be descriptive, but they are also words of intolerance. We sanctimoniously set ourselves up as judges of others. It is a trend which is increasingly being found in our daily media, and they presumably reflect the interests and values of readers and viewers (among whom one can, alas, find “good” Catholics).

Living side by side
Hence, today’s parable far from being remote, touches on deep areas in the lives of all of us. The parable is saying that people who are filled with the vision and values of God and Jesus must learn to live side by side with a whole spectrum of people who, in varying degrees, do not yet share or live this vision and these values. This applies to differences between Christians and non-Christians but also within Christian communities themselves. We are – and always will be – a sinful Church. To pretend that we are anything else is a lie. It is not the healthy who need the physician Jesus, but the sinners and tax collectors – you and me.

We can go even further. Each one of us is a combination of wheat and weeds. In each one of us there are elements of the Kingdom and elements that are deeply opposed to it. Paul recognised that struggle within himself (see Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory:

My power is made perfect in [your] weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

The coming of the Kingdom then is not going to be a neat and tidy process. And experience again and again confirms that fact whenever we try to bring out change and reforms in any community.

Small beginnings
The next two parables point to two other characteristics of the Kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows that the work of the Kingdom has tiny beginnings, whether we are talking of the fledgling Church which Christ established or any newly established Kingdom-inspired movement today. And wherever the vision of the Kingdom becomes truly rooted, it will experience certain and inevitable growth.

Why? Because the vision of the Kingdom is not a narrow, religious one but an expression of the deepest aspirations of all human beings. At its beginnings the Church, as the instrument for the building of the Kingdom, must have felt it faced a daunting task. Its tiny communities were scattered all over Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. Waves of persecution and hostility followed each other in a determined effort to wipe them out. But they prevailed as Truth, Love and Justice must in the end always prevail. Even so, the “weeds” of opposition will always be present.

An element of growth
In the third parable, the Kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast in a large batch of dough. Its presence cannot be easily detected – for it is totally blended with and part of its environment – as a good Kingdom community should be. At the same time, it has an energy of its own which produces a remarkable influence of growth in the whole. Perhaps part of our Christian problem is that we are too exclusively concerned with the growth (or even the survival) of the Church in general, or of our little corner of the Church, and not sufficiently with the growth and well-being of the whole community to which we belong.

God’s Kingship in the here and now
To sum up, each of the three parables is saying something specific about the development of God’s Kingdom among us:

  • It is going to be, on the whole, a messy business in which the good and bad, the strong and the weak, the clean and the corrupt, will rub shoulder to shoulder both inside the Church and its communities and outside it. To try to create islands of absolute integrity is not realistic and is even self-defeating.
  • No matter how small the beginnings, if we are faithful to the spirit and values of the Kingdom, we can be sure that apparently difficult obstacles, threats and even dangers can be overcome.
  • A Kingdom-community, even though very small, can exert a real influence on the growth of the environment of which it is fully a part and be instrumental in spreading Kingdom values as the accepted values.
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